Saturday night’s game between the Braves and the Mets was a strange one, because it slowly transformed from being a typical September baseball game to being an impromptu appreciation night for none other than A.J. Pierzynski. The journeyman catcher reportedly had his family in attendance for this game as he made a rare start, and he delivered a key knock in extra innings for the Braves. It wasn’t quite a game-winner, but don’t tell that to AJP.
The Braves eventually won the game, but had Swanson scored on this play then it really would’ve been a storybook ending to A.J. Pierzynski’s time as an Atlanta Brave. Either way, there were still plenty of hugs and cigars being passed around in AJP’s direction. It seemed like the end, and the Braves actually put him on the disabled list ahead of Sunday’s game against the Mets. While Pierzynski hasn’t said “Yes” or “No” when it comes to retirement, it’s probably a guarantee that his time as an Atlanta Brave has come to a close.
If this was indeed the end of the road for Pierzynski as an Atlanta Brave, then it was definitely an interesting two years. Naturally it started with the news of his signing being leaked by the son of a random guy having a conversation at a Honey Baked Ham with then-manager Fredi Gonzalez. There wasn’t too much excitement within the fanbase concerning the signing, and it was definitely one of those moves that seemed to signal that the Braves were definitely in the throes of a rebuilding process.
However, a strange thing happened in 2015: A.J. Pierzynski played some good baseball. He was supposed to come in and serve as a mentor to Christian Bethancourt. However, Bethancourt almost immediately showed that he wasn’t ready for this level of play, and Pierzynski ended up becoming the starter. As a result, he played 113 games and put up a slash line of .300/.339/.430 with 119 wRC+ and nine homers, which was good for 2.0 fWAR on the season. Quite frankly, that was 2.0 more fWAR than I figured he’d put up for the season, and he ended up being one of the better catchers in all of baseball during 2015. He wasn’t lighting the world on fire, but he still provided value to the Braves in a role that nobody really expected him to fill going into that season.
You really couldn’t blame the Braves for giving Pierzynski another chance going into this season. Plus, with the signing of Tyler Flowers as well, the best-case scenario for Atlanta was that there’d be a halfway-decent catching platoon in place. Unfortunately, Pierzynski’s production cratered this season. In just 81 games, AJP had a slash line of .219/.243/.304 with a meager wRC+ number of 41. In addition to the struggles at the plate, he struggled when it came to keeping balls from reaching the backstop and it also seemed like baserunners could basically take second base at will as long as AJP was manning the catcher’s spot this season. All of that means that Pierzynski will end this season with -0.9 fWAR. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a rough season for Pierzynski — that has been very clear, both on the statsheet and according to the eye test.
However, it wasn’t all bad for the near 40-year-old catcher. He did reach a few major milestones this season. He became only the 10th “primary” catcher in the history of baseball to reach the 2,000 hit club, and also became the 10th catcher ever to appear in 2,000 games. Whether you’re having a tough season or not, it’s still a nice achievement to reach milestones such as those.
In addition to the milestones, he also managed to avoid getting into any major shenanigans on the field during either of his two seasons with the Braves. The only thing that could’ve even been remotely considered as being “controversial” was the fact that he admitted to Katie Nolan that he used to pound beers in the dugout during games. Other than that, we didn’t see or hear anything about any player on another team wanting to sock A.J. Pierzynski in his face. That was over the course of two whole seasons! That’s an amazing achievement!
In all seriousness, the Braves are probably still satisfied with what they got out of Pierzynski over these past two seasons. He stepped up in a huge way in 2015, and while 2016 may have been a wash on the field, it’s clear that the guy still had a pretty good effect on the young players in the clubhouse. You don’t receive the displays of respect that he got after Saturday night’s game if you’re a blight on the clubhouse. There are points in a rebuild where you need “clubhouse” guys, and as far as this season is concerned, Pierzynski was clearly one of those guys.
You could say that A.J. Pierzynski’s time with the Braves was probably the world’s calmest rollercoaster. His tenure started off strong and was riding high and fast for a while, then went on a seemingly never-ending dip into the abyss — only to return from the abyss to reach one last peak before the ride finally came to an abrupt end. He didn’t set the world on fire during his time with the Braves, but nothing else caught on fire during his time in Atlanta. That’s a positive, and we’ll probably look back on his time here pretty fondly. Who could’ve seen that coming when his signing was initially announced?
Now, enjoy this video of Pierzynski catching the final out of a random game against the Phillies and celebrating as if he’d won the World Series again.